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The Restaurant Gary Danko


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The Restaurant Gary Danko

As part of my week of food, I recently visited one of San Francisco’s elite eateries, The Restaurant Gary Danko. It was terrific. I had recommended Danko to my mother a while back for a business dinner and her reaction was enthusiastic. It was one of the best meals ever, she raved, and offered repeated, glowing reviews of the service. (When I told her that I’d eaten their, she again remembered how wonderful the staff was.) I had previously open been to two restaurants that are popularly regarded as making up the city’s top tier – Fleur D’Lys and Postrio. I can’t say that I paid enough attention at either. However, having had at least three meals at Postrio, I don’t recall anything special about the experience. This alone suggests to me that Danko is a step above, because I don’t think I could have not been impressed with the restaurant’s style and service.

Danko is located on a dark streed corner on the Northern slope of Russian Hill. (It is perilously close to Fisherman’s Wharf, but I will not insult this place by pairing with that.) The outside is, seen at night, a dark brown, fronted with an impressively tasteful and forceful golden sign containing the intertwined “G” and “D” that are Danko’s logo. (See above.)

The interior consists of two beautiful rooms, stylishly decorated without any hint of excess or showiness. Differing in the from both the opulence of Fluer D’Lys or the simplicity of French Laundry, Danko presents inviting rooms, with simple amber wood tones and other unexceptional touches. Although the entrance was crowded when I walked in, giving it a somewhat hectic feeling, this melted away quickly as the people were soon led to their tables. There are some photos of the interior on Danko’s website, but I don’t think they do justice to the restaurant’s comfortable feel. They are presented in a wide, narrow (think letterbox) format, limited to only a quarter or so of the page. This gives a low, claustrophobic feel to the photos which is not at all present in the restaurant itself. But, if you've got Internet access, they will give you an idea of the ambience.

I arrived at about 9:15 for a 9:30 appointment. Some mistake had been made, as they had our reservation down for 9, but due to the crowd we would have to wait at least until 9:30 anyway. While waiting, I noticed another couple come in and telling the host that their hotel conceirge had made a reservation for them. None was to be found in the book, but the hostess made a call to the hotel, and five minutes later assured the couple that they would have a table.

Earlier in the day, I sent an email to a wine-educated friend of mine, half-jokingly asking him to peruse Danko’s winelist and make a recommendation. (I was also gloating a bit, since he was still jealous that I’d been to French Laundry a few days earlier.) His suggestion was simple – Danko’s wine list, while excellent, was incredibly marked-up. Instead, he told me to spend my lunch hour at The Wine Club (located at 938 Harrison at 5th) and to ask them for advice. I printed out the wine list and made way to the Club. I didn’t want to spend too much time making price comparisons, but the one I did make suggested that my friend’s advice was well worth it. A Chateau Mouton-Rothschild '85 at Danko sold for $1,200; it could be had at the Wine Club for abou $215, which, including the $25 corkage fee at the restaurant is well worth the effort. I chose two, Château Cos d'Estournel, '89 and [one more I will fill in when I get home], figuring we would select one for dinner.

I arrived carrying my little brown bag of wine and clutched it carefully as anyone would two glass hundred-dollar bills. After about 10 minutes, the hostess asked me if she could take the wine and hold it for me, and I agreed (not having any idea what I should do, but she seemed trustworthy). However, she simply excused herself and walked away. It took another 10 minutes or so for her to come back and fetch my bottles.

While waiting I looked through the restaurant. The crowd was well-dressed, with dark blue blazers present as if they’d been handed out, and only a few gentlemen were without jacket. The bar was filled with diners, yet did not appear at all uncomfortable. The bartended appeared to be holding court keeping the diners entertained while at the same time making the necessary drinks and never looking hurried. I’m told that it is easy to stop by and get a seat at the bar for dinner, and I intend to do so. The staff all wore blue blazers, each with two pins on their lapel – the Mobile Five Star, and the Relais Gourmand crest. At first I thought it somewhat pretentious, but the outgoing friendliness of everyone in the place quickly dispelled that notion.

My date, Cabrales of course, arrived soon before our reservation, and we were presently escorted to our table. The room was terrific, but I’ll leave it to her for a more accurate description as I had only a glance – as good manners demand, I offered her the inside bench seat against the wall. (If any women find this sexist and offensive, please let me know, and I will never do it again.) Although I usually try to grab the bench seat for comfort (the eating of this past week has left me just a smidge shy of morbidly obese), the chair at Danko were surprisingly spacious and comfortable for a fellow my size. Seated as I was in front of Cabrales, I had, of course, no inclination to look away. She, on the other hand, had six-and-a-half feet of reason to look throughout the room. My only criticism of the room was that the tables were fairly close together – however, the table to our right finished soon after we stared and I never noticed any sense of crowding.

Our waitress, Suzanne, came by to explain the reservation. She was surprisingly outgoing and gregarious given the otherwise serious tenor of the restaurant (blazers and pins and all). At French Laundry the staff, although exceptionally friendly, knowledgable and helpful, was fairly reserved and formal. (Having been to French Laundry just four days before, comparisons are inevitable.) Suzanne was quite the opposite, bantering and joking with us throughout the meal.

She explained how the menu worked. It was divided into five categories: Appetizers, Fish and Shellfish, Meat and Game; Cheese and Dessert. Diners could choose meals of three, four or five course, for $54, $64 or $74, respectively. The only limitation was that diners could choose only one course from the Meat and Game section, as Gary believed that those dishes only worked in the entrée size. Aside from that rule, a diner could choose any combination of the offerings, including a meal of five desserts. I was somewhat taken aback when she explained that doubling up on an appetizer or fish and shellfish would result in the kitchen modifying the portion size accordingly. I would expect that ordering another dish – and paying more money – would receive more food. But no worry – whatever they did with the portions, even I had more than enough food during the meal to make me more than happy (with one exception, noted below).

The menu (our menu only differed slightly from the winter menu currently on the website) was extensive and varied in all respects but one – every dish contianed fruit, usually citrus. I understand that many, perhaps most, possibly all but one people enjoy the pairing of sweet fruit or tart citrus with meat and fish. I’m that one, and don’t particularly like it. I usually wouldn't criticize a restaurant for offering dishes that weren’t to my liking, but it did surprise me that there was no option to avoid citrus, pear, apple, cranberry or pomegranite. That said, it was easy enough for me to push aside an overpowering section of blood orange where necessary, and the fruit did not detract in the least from my enjoyment.

Amuse Bouche

We were brought an amuse of trout mousse, served on a small coin of brioche, topped with a smidge of caviar and sitting in small spot of dill jus. I’m not a fan of pureed fish (“beware the salmon mousse”), but I really enjoyed this. The bite was a small one, which limited the strength of the trout flavor. It was not too heavy and the texture of the mousse blended well with the brioche. The only shortcoming, noticed by Cabrales and me, was that the brioche seemed almost a little stale. I don’t know if that was because we sat at 9:45 and the bread had been prepared much earlier, or if it had just picked up some moisture from the dill jus. Either way, it was a slight imperfection at most. One point off.

They brought over some bread, which was surprisingly ordinary. Just a hunk of French bread, room temperature. Cabrales again asked about the butter, which was “Challenge”. We’d never heard of it, but Challenge Dairy's website explains that it is a California coop, and claims that it is the choice of many of the world's top chefs. Gary Danko is featured in the site’s “Chef’s Spotlight.” Although I think that this focus on butter is slightly weird, since Cabrales brought it up, I’ll say that I liked it better than the organic butter (spiked with fleur de sel) served at French Laundry. This had a cooler, fresher taste, and was the kind of butter that reminds me how much I love butter. (FL’s was kind of flat with a slightly oily feel.)

A member of the staff then rolled over a beautiful black and chrome cart on which were our two bottles of wine. He asked which we would like to start with, and I said that although I assumed the Cos D'Estournel was the better bottle, we would like his help choosing. Cabrales suggested that he hear what we were having for our meal, but he didn’t seem to hear. He quickly agreed that the 1989 was the better choice of the two. I have a feeling that, given the many different tastes on the menu, they wouldn’t influence greatly the decision between the two wines. He opened the bottle and decanted a bit. He offered me the taste, which I should have refused. Being slightly dim, I forgot that I was in the early stages of a cold, and the wine just didn’t come across well to me. On the tongue, it felt flat and heavy, and it was sharp and somewhat biting on the back of the mouth. There was not much flavor otherwise. But Cabrales like it quite a bit, and what the hell do I know about wine?

Appetizer

For appetizer, I had the seared foie gras. Cabrales had the glazed oysters. I chose the foie gras because I don’t recall ever having had it other than perhaps a small slice sitting atop a filet or other piece of meat. (I opted against the terrine, as I’d just had one at FL the weekend before.) It tasted great, but the texture was not much to my liking. The flavor was full and mellow, picking up good boost from the searing. Inside, however, was soft, with a consistency somewhat like a stiff pudding. For all I know, this is perfect. For me, it wasn’t bad, but was not overly enjoyable. It didn’t have much texture or mouthfeel. More disappointing were the caramelized red onion. They appeared dark black and had pretty much been reduced to a thick sludge, losing any identification with onion. I suspect that this may be because we were a late seating, and they were made much earlier in the evening and had been warming near the stove too long. That said, however, the taste was certainly enjoyable. Sweet and bold, with hints of balsamic. The fuji apples were sweet and offered a nice fresh crunch. In all, the dish worked and I feel it was a good introduction for foie gras. I’ll definitely sample more in the future.

Cabrales’s oyseters were simply devine. This is a signature dish of Gary’s (the staff all refer to him as “Gary”, not “the chef”), and his website contains the recipe. (The recipe can be found on Chellenge's website under the Chef Spotlight section.) The broth is made from oyster juice, clam juice, fish fumet, and some cream. The oysters are poached in the broth and the dish is topped with two types of caviar – osetra and trout. The final dish is wonderful. When a spoonful is taken, the first taste is the velvetly smooth broth that bursts with the flavors from the fish, while being softened by the richness of the cream. It wakes up the mouth and readies it for the next guest. The oyster, plump and meaty, spills forth the fresh flavor of the ocean. Soon thereafter is the sharp brine of the caviar to finish the mouthful. Hitting the tastebuds and nose as it does after the strength of the broth and oyster, it blends perfectly without overpowering any of the senses or leaving any lingering fishyness. The broth carries away any excess saltiness, and the mouth is left clean and ready for the next spoonful. If you go to Danko, don’t miss out on this. Even those hesitant about oysters should find this easy to palate, both in appearance and flavor.

Fish and Seafood

Roast Maine Lobster with Chanterelle Mushrooms, Edamame Beans, Potato Purée and Tarragon

We each chose two from the fish and shellfish selections (we opted against a cheese course). I chose the pan-seared grouper, and the roasted lobster. Cabrales also chose the lobster and added the Seared Scallops, Butternut Squash Purée, King Trumpet Mushrooms and Sherry Sauce (sorry, no picture of the scallop).

My grouper was terrific, as much a visual delight as gustatory. The medalion of white flesh was only lightly seared, allowing bright color of the fish to remain. It was perched atop the juncture of three generous quennelles of fennel puree that were joined at the points and radiated outward. Framing this pattern as a backfrop was a glowing yellow sun of saffron sauce. The combined affect was a burst of color that was matched by flavor. The fish excelled in both taste and texture. While not overly thick, it was well-sized and moist and the first flesh had terrific bite. The flavor was strong without being at all fishy. The saffron sauce help up perfectly to the fish, with a bold aroma a smoothness that felt terrific on the tongue. It was accented perfectly by small sections of meyer lemon which burst with sweetness and and acidity. The fennel puree was the weak point of this dish, but again, that may have been due to my cold, not the preparation. I thought the texture too soft to add much to the overall dish, and I did not get any aroma of anise. (In fact, I had forgotten it was fennel, and thought it was a leek puree until reminded by Suzanne.)

Cabrales’s scallop (singular) was another hit of the evening. The little fellow must have been seared very hot but only briefly. This developed a terrificly strong flavor and a good bite to the crust, leaving the inside moist and buttery sweet. It was served with small cauliflower flowerets, which I did not find anything special, but large chunks of King Trumpet mushrooms were a surprise. They were about 1” cubes, and looked like chunks of portobello. But they were lighter in color and had a mellower flavor. (The waitress said they were large oyster mushrooms.) The earthiness of the mushroom paired very well with the ocean of the scallop. The only drawback I saw with this dish was that there was only one scallop on the plate. Perhaps it was downsized because it was one of two appetizer selections (I think I saw other plates of scallop walking about with more than one), but I found this unnecessarily miserly of the restaurant, especially since I enjoyed it so much and wanted more. (Yes, I speak as if this were my dish, but Cabrales kept forcing upon me her food. At first I thought she wasn’t enjoying it as much as I, but in the end she offered it unexpectedly high praise.)

We each had a course of roast maine lobster, which was every bit as good as expected. The dish was presented as half a small tail with the meat of a claw resting on a little dish made from one side of body armor. The two were curled about one another and propped in the center of the plate atop potato puree and chanterelle mushrooms, with a sprinkle of bright green edamame. I thought the lobster meat had great taste and texture, definitely the soft flesh of a younger animal. It did not have a pronounced “snap” to the bite that I usually find in lobster or shrimp. Cabrales didn’t enjoy the texture as much as I did, finding it, I think, too weak. The edamame added bright drops of green color, but no real flavor of their own. (We raised this with one of the line cooks we spoke with after eating, and he agreed. “It’s just a soybean.”) It was served with sections of blood orange, which I found too strong and pushed to the side.

Although the lobster was very good, I thought it was one of the weaker ones on the menu – not because there was anything wrong with it, but because it was, in the end, pretty much just a good, or a really good, piece of lobster. I’ve had good lobster before, and unlike many of the other dishes, it didn’t offer me anything out of ordinary and didn’t truly amaze me. (For example, the “peas and carrots” at FL was a wholly new and exciting presentation of lobster to me. However, it’s not fair to compare the two, because other than lobster being the main ingredient, they are not at all similar dishes.)

Meat and Game Birds

Venison (Trust me, they looked better in real life.)

The next course was meat and game. I had the duck breast over poached pear. Cabrales ordered venison tenderloin (neither of these are on the current winter menu, and I don't have my copy of the menu with me, so the exact titles will have to wait). The duck was served sliced and fanned, on top of chopped pears and a wonderful duck hash. The had a good flavor, but was somewhat underdone for my preference. This resulted in a chewyness that I didn’t enjoy, and there was a white line of fat running through the meat. The pears, however, offered a cool freshness and had a wonderfully gritty texture that I really enjoyed. The best part of the meal was the surprise cake of duck hash. This wasn’t mentioned on the menu – at first I thought it was some formulation of pressed risotto (risotto was served in a number of dishes) or potato pancake, but the first bite offered a an aggressive, smoky rush of peppery potato and duck. The sauce appeared to be a wine/jus reduction that contributed great meaty flavor to the dish. It received a good jolt of flavor from some cracked pepper corn crusting the breast and from juniper berries in the sauced. (Actually, one of the waiters thought they were huckleberries.) The caramelized red onion made another appearance here, and suffered from the same problem – it seemed overdone. However, it fit in well, helping to bring out and intensify the bold meaty flavors on the place.

Putting aside the texture of the duck, I found, again, that the flavors of this dish were fairly familiar to me. This again prompts a comparison to my experience at French Laundry. Some of what I enjoyed most at FL were the brand new tastes and presentations. The creamy and buttery tapioca sabayon of the oysters and pearls, the papery crisp skin of the bass, the decadent richness of the lobster in peas and carrots. It dawned on me that Danko wasn’t giving me a similar sense of excitement because many of the tastes and presentations were familiar to me. I’ve had a lot of lobster, scallop, duck breast, grouper, etc. Don’t get me wrong though – almost everything I received at Danko ranked among the best I’ve ever had. This is more an observation and not at all a condemnation.

Coincedentally, Cabrales tasted my duck and loved it – including the texture. On the other hand, she didn’t love her venison, finding the meat a bit overdone. To her defense, she had ordered it rare, asking the waitress to “err on the side of raw.” The thick slices of meat came out beautifully blackened on the outside, with an even, bright rosy color inside, rare to medium-rare, perhaps. It was just what I would have wanted, and with deft slight of hand, we switched plates. The meat was tender and delicious. The saucing was very similar to that of the duck. The only drawback for me was the inclusion of some crushed almonds in the saucing that I found to add a bitter taste.

As noted above, we skipped the cheese course. Next time I wont. The cheese plate had a great looking assortment (a sample list can be found on the website), and when it was rolled to the table nextdoor, the aroma was wonderful.

Dessert

Flambéed Pears with Cornmeal Crepes, Toasted Almonds and Vanilla Ice Cream

prepared tableside

For dessert we decided to share the pear flambe with crepes, for two. The menu had a triple-chocolate mousse that was very tempting, but I want to experience the entertainment of the flambe prepared at our table. Suzanne rolled out a burner, with a plate of poached pears, four folded crepes (pre-made in the kitchen), and other goodies. She placed a wide shallow pan filled with a good amount of dark turbinado sugar on top of a hot butter. As she stirred the sugar to melt it, she added about two tablespoons of butter, and worked it into the sugar. After this she added the sliced pears, again stirring them to coat with the butter and caramelizing sugar. A stiff shot of cognac was poured in and boldly flambed. When this died down, she added a good helping of cream to finish off the sauced. As the sauce bubbled, she unfolded the crepes one at a time and rested them in the caramel before placing them on the plates and spooning the mixture with the pears on top. To this was added a scoop of vanilla ice cream and shavings of raw almond. I loved this all, but would have preferred more ice cream and less almond. The caramel was sweet and creamy and full of flavor. Cabrales, too would have preferred less almonds on the dish.

We finished off with some petit fours and Cabrales had a double-espresso. I asked the waitress if we could have copies of the menu, and we were given elegant black folders in a protective envelope containing the night’s menu, authographed by the chef.

In addition, all diners were given a gift of a small cinamon coffee cake, wrapped in beautiful gold foil.

Although it was fast approaching 12:30, we asked for a quick glance in the kitchen. I was surprised both by how small it was (though I have little with which to compare it) and how clean it was, but, of course, the night was over and clean-up pretty much finished. Two of the line cooks (I don’t know their actual positions/titles) were there finishing up, and Cabrales engaged them in conversation. I was not surprised that they indulged our company, but what did surprise me was how genuine and welcoming they were. Each encouraged our questions and offered responses that prompted more, instead of simply trying to get us out of the way. (Of course, one poor fellow spent the entire time peeling about 14,000 baby carrots. He must love his work!) One of the surprises in the kitchen were two microwave ovens. It was explained that they were the best ways to heat or reheat small amounts of food quickly and evenly. The example given was that it was used to reheat small amount of grains.

This openness reminded me of my mother’s report of the wonderful service she had. Wonderful it was. As I noted, our main waitress, Suzanne, was engaging and casual, without giving away any measure of service. Each food runner was also gracious and friendly and able to answer our many questions about the dishes. The hostess successfully managed the busy front of the house with a sincere smile contributed greatly to the restaurant full of happy diners.

The bill came and the tally for the evening only made us happier. We brought the wine ($100, plus $25 corkage) and each had five courses at $74, plus the glass of champagne and coffe (the crepes were an extra $6, which leads me to ask, “why?”). The total, with generous tip, came to only about $275 ($375 with wine), not bad for the meal. In fact, I expect that I will make frequent trips to dine at the bar for a three course meal with a beer, which is probably one of the best deals in the city.

And now for the best compliment of all. Although I told Cabrales that I thoroughly enjoyed the meal, I remarked, as set forth above, that it didn’t leave the impression that I had from French Laundry. Cabrales, to the shock and surprise of all on-lookers, said that in some ways she thought this meal exceeded what she’d had at French Laundry. The only explanation I can possibly muster for that is that whereas the meal met my expectations for such a place, it exceeded hers. After all, Danko didn’t even have the good sense to put the word “French” in the restaurant’s name, so how much could she had expected going into the night?

(I'm not sure I've got the foie gras/venison/duck photos correct. Please do not let this reflect badly on the restaurant.)

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Wow. Thanks for the detailed and exhaustive write-up, Stone. I'd say you'd out-done yourself, but of course your descriptions of the French Laundry were equally helpful.

I have only two comments:

1) Of course you weren't very impressed by Postrio. It's not a very impressive place.

2) Clearly you were impressed by the service. I found it a bit weird, as if everything the servers were telling me was precisley scripted, including the exact words they were supposed to say as well as the correct intonation. Our server had such precise diction that it was simply unreal. Did you have this impression at all?

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Stone and I had a very good meal at Danko. :raz: While GD does not rival French Laundry with respect to cuisine, for me GD is at least as strong as most of the NYT-four-star restaurants. :laugh: When Stone and I had discussed GD and FL, I had noted that there are some respects in which GD exceeded FL, but my overall assessment remains in favor of FL.

When I arrived at the restaurant (just on time?), Stone looked like he had been waiting a while (I'm glad to hear it was not too, too long). :huh: I was glad to see him again, and appreciated the efforts he had taken with respect to the BYO bottles. It was so thoughtful of Stone to have brought two bottles "just in case". :smile: We waited a bit for a table. There is not much room in the entryway to the restaurant, and dining room team members moved by one after another.

We were led into the room on the left, when one enters the restaurant. I prefer the decor of that room to the one on the right. Our room had a colorful modern painting dominating its right-hand-side wall and a more minimalist light-greyish-greenish depiction being prominent on the left-hand-side wall. The lighting was nice, and the room felt comfortable. There were smaller works of art, also modern, appropriately adorning the walls.

I appreciated that Stone offered me the bench seat, and took no issue with that. I'm glad to hear that the "outer" seat was not uncomfortable for him. I appreciated Stone's company during the meal. His assessments of the dishes, except in connection with the duck/venison trade, were close to mine. :wink:

As Stone noted, the amuse was a quenelle of trout on a tiny brioche piece, with dill saucing. I ordered some chamagne, of which there is only one non-rose offered by the glass (Roederer).

(1) Glazed Oysters with Leeks, Salsify and Two Caviars

Stone: Seared Foie Gras, Caramelized Red Onions and Fuji Apples

As Stone noted, this was rather arresting. We shared the dish, taking care to sample every spoonful. We both wanted to take in more of these oysters, but, alas, they were soon gone.

Four small oysters were presented in a fish-stock-based, balanced "broth". The broth had quite a bit of butter connotations in it, although some portion of that could have been derived from the cream. As Stone described, the initial taste is of the broth; then the flavors of the sea from oysters and the caviar express themselves. We were advised by Suzanne that these were Miyakes from Tomales (??) Bay that had been poached for 30 seconds. In the broth were significant cluster-like groupings of (1) osetra caviar (grains not as pristine as those at FL, but very nice), and (2) small orange grains of trout caviar. Delicious:raz: Jus from the oysters' insides had been added, together with butter, cream, chives and sweated leaks, among other things. Parsley had been sprinkled on top of the dish.

An interesting utilization of salsify in the broth for the oysters. The salsify tasted almost like certain more subtle turnips. The salsify, an example of GD's utilization of seasonal produce, was included as small slices, and were a nice texture (between hard and soft). I am ordinarily not in favor of the utilizaton of many ingredients in a given dish; here, the salsify was a more neutral ingredient and worked. Thanks to mikeczyz for suggesting I order the glazed oysters.

The bit of Stone's foie gras dish that I sampled was fine. As was the case with Stone, I found the saucing unduly stark and the caramelized onions overly intense. The foie dish arguably began to portray the classical base that is inherent in GD's cuisine.

(2) Roast Maine Lobster with Blood Oranges, Edamame Beans, Potato Purée and Basil

Stone: Pan Seared Grouper with Fennel Puree, Saffron and Meyer Lemon

As Stone noted, this dish was nicely plated, with the entire length of a deliberately small (less than one pound) lobster's body curled below flesh from the claw and a decorative section of the shell. I did note that there was not the "crispness" (texturally) that one sometimes receives upon biting into appropriately cooked lobster. The lobster dish looked more attractive than it tasted, and was perhaps average-plus in flavor.

Small sections of (confit?) blood orange, unusually a purplish red in color, sat beside the lobster. These were too sweet for my tastes, and affected the balance in the dish. As Stone noted, GD has a tendency to offer too many dishes with citrus components. Within such dishes, also, there may be a question about the amount of citrus incorporated. The potato puree was appropriate.

I sampled a bit of Stone's grouper dish. Relatively dense meat (in a good way) slightly reminiscent of that of monkfish (but less dense than monkfish) was appealing, and the citrus in the Meyer-lemon-and-saffron saucing was nice too. (Meyer lemon was heavily represented in the current season's menu. I had to refrain myself from ordering on the basis of my liking that ingredient.) Nice accompanying vegetables in various presentations, including fennel, spinach, potatoes and red bell peppers. Interesting utilization of Nicoise olives (presented whole) against the citrus aspects of the Meyer lemon sauce. A leek sauce was utilized in addition to the lemon saucing, and it was appropriate too.

(3) Seared Sea Scallops with Truffles and Leek Potato Puree

Stone: Lobster Dish from Above

The scallop was the second most attractive dish of the meal. It was very yummy :laugh: :laugh: There was a single plump scallop, which was of a good texture. The scallop seemed to be available for consumption of its little pieces longer than I would have thought when it was presented to the table. And, Stone, yes, I was not trying to pan off an unwanted item to you. I really liked this dish. :wink:

Atop the scallop was a tiny piece of off-red beetroot, which was attractive. The black truffle thin, short "strips" were not over-powering in the dish (appropriately). Very nice utilization of sauteed cauliflower portions, which were presented in about the same quantities as a nicely buttery potatoes puree.

(4) Juniper Spiced Venison Medallions, Cranberry Onion Compote and Braised Endive

Stone: Lemon Herb Duck Breast with Poached Barlett Pears

My venison was noticeably overcooked relative to the "rare" level (with explicit indications of erring on the side of undercooking Stone described) I had ordered (it was at least medium rare, if not leaning towards medium -- perhaps more cooked than Stone suggested). I also found the jus-based saucing a bit oily. There were fresh almond slices atop the venison, and small sections of carrots beneath it.

I took in at least 1/2 of Stone's duck dish, which I preferred to the venison. Conveniently for the trade, Stone preferred the venison I had ordered. :raz: This led me to think about the potential "dish preference-risk diversification" benefits of not dining alone, among other things. :wink:

The duck was presented in pink-ridden, relatively thin (for duck) slices, without meaningful amounts of skin. They were presented medium rare, and I appreciated the resulting supple, yet fleshy/slightly chewy texture (particularly towards the middle of the slice) that Stone described. I also liked the visual aspects of the pinkness of certain portions of the duck. Appealing dark-purple-blackish tiny berries were included that I thought might have been huckleberries, but they were juniper berries. They were helpful to the dish, like the peppercorn effects Stone discussed. Jus-based saucing that was less "oily" than that for the venison, although, as Stone and I discussed, the style of the saucing was comparable.

Stone and I could not initially identify the duck confit hash in the duck dish. We were advised that there was also skin crackling as a garnish; I did not notice this. The wine Stone brought went wonderfully with the duck. :raz:

(5) Flambéed Pears with Cornmeal Crepes, Toasted Almonds and Vanilla Ice Cream (Prepared tableside 2+ persons, supp $6/person)

This dessert was nicely presented tableside, in the manner Stone described. A large flat-bottomed saucepan was placed over a heat source on a cart. Our dining room team member added Challenge-brand butter, lemon (juice?) and other items to glistening, de-skinned Bosc pear quarters or 1/6th segments that had previously been poached. The preparation of the dish took more than several minutes. A touch of Cognac produced a very dramatic flame prior to plating.

This dessert was delicious, although we thought there were too many sliced almonds on the ice cream on the crepes and too little ice cream. The crepes had just the right amount of buttery taste, and the caramelized sensations in the saucing was also spot on. The pears tasted very uniform from one piece to the next and within each piece (not negative or positive).

Stone was studying the preparation of the dessert quite intently. He might be thinking he could be able to make a similar dish at home -- does this ring a bell, with respect to a comment he had in the FL thread? :laugh: :laugh:

The portion sizes were good. As indicated by Stone, we had initially thought that the dining room team member's reference to portion sizes being "adjusted" depending on whether the diner ordered a 3, 4 or 5-course menu as being slightly ominous-sounding with respect to portion size for the lengthiest menu. Stone asked the dining room team member why anybody would order the 5-course "fixed" tasting menu set forth on the menu, when one could construct a 5-course menu of one's choosing for the same price. We had wondered whether the potential advantages of the tasting menu had some connection to the wine pairings. The dining room team member advised us that the 5-course specified tasting menu reflected what the chef thought would be a good sequence of dishes.

Overall, a very good meal. :raz:

Miscellaneous

The dining room team members had GD's "badges of merit" conspicuously indicated on their lapels. As Stone discussed, there is a five-star Mobil pin that resembled a mini gold sheriff's badge, and the Relais & Chateau pin. The dining room team appeared interested and knowledgeable. Overall, very good dining room team service, although not at the FL level. Suzanne, the dining room team member assisting us, was helpful, articulate and readily on hand. I did not find the service to be too formal in any way. She nicely asked whether I was a chef :wink:, given the photos of the dishes that I was taking. Stone was happily snapping away too. :laugh:

The sommelier team utilizes carts with different wine glasses on the lower tiers of the cart. I asked whether the wine Stone brought could be served in the Reidel sommelier series Burgundy rimmed cup that we had received at FL. The sommelier team member indicated that he had very few of those glasses, and they were all being used. We received Spiegelau regular-quality glasses.

GD had two uniformed parking team members outside when I arrived. The restaurant charges for parking ($10).

The restaurant was fully occupied. Even the bar was full with guests who were taking in meals.

Edited by cabrales (log)
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2) Clearly you were impressed by the service.  I found it a bit weird, as if everything the servers were telling me was precisley scripted, including the exact words they were supposed to say as well as the correct intonation.  Our server had such precise diction that it was simply unreal.  Did you have this impression at all?

Not at all. Like I said, Suzanne was very causal and informal. The dish descriptions were likely memorized, but isn't that to be expected? Our main runner was more formal (younger, a bit nervous?), but I wouldn't describe his interaction as scripted.

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Interesting utilization of Nicoise olives (presented whole) against the citrus aspects of the Meyer lemon sauce.

Yes, I forgot about this. I usually don't enjoy olives in my food, but this added a few bite of strong bitter flavor that kept bringing down the richness of the sauce. Very good.

Stone was studying the preparation of the dessert quite intently. He might be thinking he could be able to make a similar dish at home -- does this ring a bell, with respect to a comment he had in the FL thread? :laugh: :laugh:

Maybe.

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southern girl -- I didn't see your post in any way as a slight on mine. :smile: I have confidence in the helpfulness of my post, including enough confidence to acknowledge that Stone's post was more evocative than mine. :wink:

Edited by cabrales (log)
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Kudos, DS!!

Fabulously written chronicle, full service (i.e., pictures and links) to boot. I think this and the FL post (with an assist from Cabby) have brought the California board into it's own!!

Nice value on the Cos D'Estournel. I cut my French wine teeth at the Wine Clubs tastings. What was the other bottle?

beachfan

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Since Stone and Cabrales wrote such wonderful descriptions of the restaurant and the kitchen...I will forego repeating the details. I have been acquainted with Gary since his days at Chateau Souverain. When we arrived we were whisked to the kitchen to say hello. Sary told us of his plans to expand the wine cellar area downstairs, add some prep areas and a dumb waiter for ease of service. As it was a Friday night, we kept our visit brief so as not to interfer with the kitchen's routine.

Upon being seating we were treated to glasses of Billecart Salmon Rose while we perused the menu. Shortly thereafter the Gary began sending out the amuse. The first was a potato and smoked duck soup with frizzled leeks and truffle oil. The depth of the flavor and pungency of the ingredients was amazing. One of the best soups I have had in ages. The next amuse was a bite of roast lobster with enoki mushrooms. Again very flavorful. The third was a small torchon of foie gras atop homemade melba toast. A nice counter point to the smooth, lush foie.

My dinner companion and I opted for the 5 course tasting menu. We chose the 2000 Domaine Le Flaive "Clavillon" Puligny-Montrachet and the 1999 Chateau Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape (which the sommelier immediately decanted so it would open up some before our main course.

I began with the Pancetta wrapped Frog Legs with sunchoke garlic Puree, Potato, Lentils and Parsley Sauce. A large deep bowl arrived holding four plump frogs legs resting atop the Potato and lentils. Along one side, the sunchoke garlic puree and the other a drizzle of parsley sauce. The pancetta wrapping had just the slightest crunch to it. I have had similar dishes where in order to get the legs cooked properly, the pancetta ends up tough and overcooked. That was definitely not the case here. The lentils also had a hint of pancetta flavor. I did not detect any garlic flavor to the sunchoke puree, which I would not say was a negative, as the dish had plenty of flavor.

My dining companion chose the Glazed Oysters with leeks, salsify and two caviars. It looked lovely and she pronounced it to be excellent.

The second course we both chose Seared Sea Scallops with truffles and Leek Potato Puree. An huge, golden slightly crisp diver scallop perched atop the leek potato puree and sauced with (I think) a veal stock based truffle sauce. The scallop itself was sweet and rare on the inside. A good foil to the heady flavor of the truffle sauce. The leek potato puree provided texture and color rather than flavor (again not a negative as the dish was well balanced).

Next we both chose the Seared Foie Gras, Caramelized Red Onions and Fuji Apples. The sommelier provided us each with a pour of tojkai. Unfortunately, my foie was a bit more cooked than I prefer. The flavors, again, were well balanced.

For my main course I chose the Beef Medallion with truffled winter vegetables. Three slices of beautifully rare, tender beef atop a mix of root vegetables. The scent of truffle wafting up from the plate. Excellent.

For her main course my friend ordered the Herb Crusted Loin of Lamb with Winter Vegetables, Tian and Farro Risotto. I only got a small bite of the lamb (none of the accutrements as my friend was hording them :shock: a good sign!). The lamb arrived as she requested, medium rare. It was tender and flavorful.

We both opted for the cheese course. I chose the Humbolt Fog, Brin D'Amour, Epoisses, and another goat cheese whose name escapes me. Each at the proper consistency, served with a very nice walnut bread. I accepted the offer of a glass of port-a twenty year tawny, but, I did not hear the producer as a friend from Napa stopped by the table as the glass was delivered.

We declined the offer of dessert and petit fours...but were pleasantly surprised by the addition of an extra gold wrapped package of cookies to go with our cinnamon coffee cake.

From start to finish a very good 4 1/2 hours of dining at Gary Danko.

Edited by southern girl (log)
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southern girl -- Thanks for the report :laugh: When you have a chance, could you discuss any factors you took into consideration in choosing the cheese course as one of your courses, when the alternative was another app or seafood/fish dish?

Also, could you provide a bit more information on the beef, as I was on the verge of ordering that dish.

Edited by cabrales (log)
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Since Stone and Cabrales wrote such wonderful descriptions of the restaurant and the kitchen...I will forego repeating the details. I have been acquainted with Gary since his days at Chateau Souverain. When we arrived we were whisked to the kitchen to say hello. Sary told us of his plans to expand the wine cellar area downstairs, add some prep areas and a dumb waiter for ease of service. As it was a Friday night, we kept our visit brief so as not to interfer with the kitchen's routine.

Upon being seating we were treated to glasses of Billecart Salmon Rose while we perused the menu. Shortly thereafter the Gary began sending out the amuse. The first was a potato and smoked duck soup with frizzled leeks and truffle oil. The depth of the flavor and pungency of the ingredients was amazing. One of the best soups I have had in ages. The next amuse was a bite of roast lobster with enoki mushrooms. Again very flavorful. The third was a small torchon of foie gras atop homemade melba toast. A nice counter point to the smooth, lush foie.

My dinner companion and I opted for the 5 course tasting menu. We chose the 2000 Domaine Le Flaive "Clavillon" Puligny-Montrachet and the 1999 Chateau Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape (which the sommelier immediately decanted so it would open up some before our main course.

I began with the Pancetta wrapped Frog Legs with sunchoke garlic Puree, Potato, Lentils and Parsley Sauce. A large deep bowl arrived holding four plump frogs legs resting atop the Potato and lentils. Along one side, the sunchoke garlic puree and the other a drizzle of parsley sauce. The pancetta wrapping had just the slightest crunch to it. I have had similar dishes where in order to get the legs cooked properly, the pancetta ends up tough and overcooked. That was definitely not the case here. The lentils also had a hint of pancetta flavor. I did not detect any garlic flavor to the sunchoke puree, which I would not say was a negative, as the dish had plenty of flavor.

My dining companion chose the Glazed Oysters with leeks, salsify and two caviars. It looked lovely and she pronounced it to be excellent.

The second course we both chose Seared Sea Scallops with truffles and Leek Potato Puree. An huge, golden slightly crisp diver scallop perched atop  the leek potato puree and sauced with (I think) a veal stock based truffle sauce. The scallop itself  was sweet and rare on the inside. A good foil to the heady flavor of the truffle sauce. The leek potato puree provided texture and color rather than flavor (again not a negative as the dish was well balanced).

Next we both chose the Seared Foie Gras, Caramelized Red Onions and Fuji Apples. The sommelier provided us each with a pour of tojkai. Unfortunately, my foie was a bit more cooked than I prefer. The flavors, again, were well balanced.

For my main course I chose the Beef Medallion with truffled winter vegetables. Three slices of beautifully rare, tender beef atop a mix of root vegetables. The scent of truffle wafting up from the plate. Excellent.

For her main course my friend ordered the Herb Crusted Loin of Lamb with Winter Vegetables, Tian and Farro Risotto. I only got a small bite of the lamb (none of the accutrements as my friend was hording them :shock: a good sign!). The lamb arrived as she requested, medium rare. It was tender and flavorful.

We both opted for the cheese course. I chose the Humbolt Fog, Brin D'Amour, Epoisses, and another goat cheese whose name escapes me. Each at the proper consistency, served with a very nice walnut bread. I accepted the offer of a glass of port-a twenty year tawny, but, I did not hear the producer as a friend from Napa stopped by the table as the glass was delivered.

We declined the offer of dessert and petit fours...but were pleasantly surprised by the addition of an extra gold wrapped package of cookies to go with our cinnamon coffee cake.

From start to finish a very good 4 1/2 hours of dining at Gary Danko.

interesting hearing about the vip treatment you received in comparison to cabrales/stones' meal.

mike

Edited by mikeczyz (log)
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Cabrales-The beef (which an excellent quality-tender and flavorful---and cooked as requested) dish was simple...basically three slices of tenderloin with a pan reduction and dots of gatsric (I can't remember what type though...it may have been cherry-but, for some reason I think that came with the foie....CRS! :blink: ) ...atop a dice of potato, turnips, carrots (I am not a huge fan of vegetables so I did not parce out the ingredients fully, there may have been others) sauteed with a light butter black truffle sauce.

Mike...I have been an acquaintance of Gary's for many years. I used to dine frequently at the restaurant at Chateau Souverain when he was the chef there, and later at the Ritz Carlton. I would suggest my treatment was more of a "welcome to my new (to me) restaurant"...I had not seen him since he cooked at dinner at Beringer I attended 2 years ago.

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The two sets (VIP and non-VIP) of GD experiences confirms GD is a professional, well-run restaurant. Stone and I were very content. He noted he would return; I share that sentiment. I felt like we took in a special dinner, and received very good service from the dining room team. Yet the restaurant was still able to "up" its level/treatment for certain other diners. :laugh:

Edited by cabrales (log)
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Cabrales...I think the treatment you receive at Blue Hill would be a much better example of VIP treatment (i.e menus tailored to you tastes and having the chef cook "off menu" if you so desire)...I think of what I received as more a thank you for coming in...it's nice to see again, please come back.

Edit:Poor spelling and typing skills :rolleyes:

Edited by southern girl (log)
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